2023 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony

Highlights from the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony

Highlights from the 2023 PEN America Literary Awards Red Carpet

The 2023 PEN America Literary Awards Ceremony returns to New York’s Town Hall to celebrate exceptional voices in literature, from first time authors to living legends. Featuring captivating winner announcements, musical direction by Ulysses Owens, Jr., and dramatic readings from selected works this is an unmissable celebration of this year’s most resonant literature. This year’s Awards Ceremony will be hosted by acclaimed actor, author, and former Obama White House aide Kal Penn with Tina Fey, nine-time Emmy Award winner and one of the greatest comedy writers of her generation, receiving the 2023 PEN/Mike Nichols Writing for Performance Award.

This year, PEN America will present 11 book awards recognizing the finest fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, essay, science writing, translation, and more published in 2022.

For sixty years, PEN America’s Literary Awards Ceremony has honored the creators and the works that shape our culture. This year, PEN America will confer over $350,000 to writers and translators. Learn more about the 2023 Literary Awards Judges here and view the 2023 Finalists here.

Join us for an evening of writers celebrating writers, in what has become one of the defining literary events of the year.

The 2023 PEN America Literary Awards program and ceremony recognize the generous signature sponsorship from the JKW Foundation, in memory of Jean Stein and her extraordinary contributions to literature.


Kal Penn is an actor, writer, producer, and former Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. He is known for his starring roles in Designated Survivor, House, Mira Nair’s The Namesake, the Harold & Kumar franchise, and the Christmas comedy The Santa Clauses for Disney+. 

From 2009 to 2011, Kal took a sabbatical from acting to serve in the Obama/Biden administration, where he served as the President’s Liaison to Young Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the Arts community. In these roles, he worked on a range of issues, including the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Affordable Care Act, Pell Grants, arts and culture programs, the DREAM Act, and rapid response to the BP Oil Spill and earthquake in Haiti.

He was a national co-chair for the Obama/Biden re-election campaign in 2012 and served on the President’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities, focusing on arts education and cultural diplomacy, including the first-ever US Government arts delegation to Cuba. Penn has taught courses at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Los Angeles. Originally from New Jersey, he received his undergraduate degree in sociology, theater, film, and television at the University of California, Los Angeles, and received a graduate certificate in international security from Stanford University. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Earlier in the year, Penn wrapped production on the Bloomberg Green climate change docuseries, Getting Warmer, and the Viacom/Paramount+ comedy, Surina & Mel. Following the departure of Trevor Noah from The Daily Show, Kal was named as an upcoming guest host.

His first book You Can’t Be Serious was released on November 2, 2021 from Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books. He also narrates the audiobook.

Career Achievement Honoree

Photo credit: Miller Mobley

Tina Fey is an award-winning writer, actress, and producer. Fey continues to be celebrated for creating and inhabiting the iconic ‘Liz Lemon’ from “30 Rock,” which Fey also co-wrote and co-executive produced. The series earned 16 Emmys and is the record-holder for the most Emmy nominations in one season for any comedy series receiving a total of 103 Emmy nominations over 7 seasons on NBC. Prior to creating “30 Rock,” Fey completed 9 seasons as a writer and cast member on “Saturday Night Live.” She has continued to co-create and executive produce hit shows such as “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Great News,” “Mr. Mayor,” and “Girls5eva.” Additional film credits include “Mean Girls,” “Baby Mama,” “Date Night,” “Sisters,” “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” to name a few as well as recently starring as a featured voice in Disney/Pixar’s Oscar winning animated film “Soul.” In addition, Fey had memorable roles in Prime Video’s “Modern Love” and most recently was featured in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” with Martin Shot, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez. In 2011, Fey published her first book, Bossypants, which topped the New York Times best seller list. The book also received a Grammy nomination for “Best Spoken Word Album.” Currently, Fey is developing the big screen, musical adaptation of her cult classic film and Tony nominated Broadway musical version of “Mean Girls: The Musical.” Fey has several projects in development under her production banner Little Stranger.


Robert Jones Jr. headshot

Photo by Alberto Vargas/Rainriver Images

Robert Jones, Jr. is the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, The Prophets, which won the 2022 Publishing Triangle Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction, was a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction, and was named one of the best books of 2021 by Time, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and more. His writings have been featured in The New York Times, Essence, Variety, and The Paris Review, as well as in the critically acclaimed anthologies Four Hundred Souls and The 1619 Project. Subscribe to his newsletter, Witness, at robertjonesjr.substack.com.

Mahogany L. Browne, selected as Kennedy Center’s Next 50 and Wesleyan’s 2022-23 Distinguished Writer-in-Residence, the Executive Director of JustMedia, Artistic Director of Urban Word, is a writer, playwright, organizer, & educator. Browne has received fellowships from Arts for Justice, Air Serenbe, Cave Canem, Poets House, Mellon Research & Rauschenberg. She is the author of recent works: Vinyl Moon, Chlorine Sky, Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice, Woke Baby, & Black Girl Magic. Founder of the diverse lit initiative Woke Baby Book Fair, Browne’s latest poetry collection Chrome Valley (Norton/Liveright, Feb 2023) centers the stories of Black women, effects of mass incarceration, impact of gun violence, and the insistence of hope. Browne is excited for her playwright debut with the world premiere of Chlorine Sky at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, Illinois. She is the first-ever poet-in-residence at the Lincoln Center and lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Star of stage, screen and television, Molly Ringwald’s credits include Ryan Murphy’s new series in production now, Feud, and was in Murphy’s Netflix mini-series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, a cameo in the FX critically acclaimed series The Bear, the film All These Small Moments which was released in January 2019 by Orion Classics and is on VOD (premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival), an arc on The Netflix series Tales of the City, Netflix’s film series The Kissing Booth, CW’s Riverdale, and the off-Broadway production of Terms of Endearment. Known for the iconic films Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, Ringwald began her film career in Paul Mazursky’s Tempest, also starring in The Pick-Up Artist, For Keeps, Fresh Horses, Betsy’s Wedding, and the foreign films Tous Les Jours Dimanches, Enfants de Salaud, and Goddard’s King Lear. Other theater includes Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive, the Broadway production of Cabaret as “Sally Bowles”, the Broadway production of Enchanted April, the London production of When Harry Met Sally, Horton Foote’s Lily Dale off-Broadway, Jonathan Larson’s Tick, Tick…Boom!, Modern Orthodox. An accomplished author and translator her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times, Vogue, Esquire, The Guardian, and more. Her translation of the French novel Lie with Me (April 2019) and the memoir “Your Name Was Maria Schneider” (2022) are both for Scribner.

Adesola Osakalumi is an actor and Bessie Award-winning and Drama Desk-nominated choreographer and actor of stage and screen. His Choregraphic work includes Skeleton Crew (Broadway MTC), Cullud Wattah, Coal Country, Othello (Public Theater), runboyrun, Eyewitness Blues (NYTW), Good Grief (Vineyard), Jam on the Groove (Minetta Lane) and the film School of Rock. As a performer he has appeared in Skeleton Crew, Fela!, Equus (Broadway), runboyrun (NYTW), Syncing Ink (Flea/Alley Theater) and the films Red Pill, IBRAHIM, Enchanted, Across the Universe, Sex and the City 2, “Endgame” (NBC), “Ice.”

Jad Abumrad is a composer, musician, and the host and creator of several podcasts (Radioladb, More Perfect, Dolly Parton’s America, Unerased) that collectively are downloaded over 130 million times a year. He’s been hailed for his unique ability to combine cutting edge sound design, cinematic storytelling, and a personal approach to explaining complex topics, from the stochasticity of tumor cells to the legal foundations of the war on terror. Jad studied creative writing and music composition at Oberlin College in Ohio. He composed much of the music for Radiolab, and in the past has composed music for theater, film, and dance. 

Radiolab has received three Peabody Awards, the highest honor in broadcasting. And in 2011 Jad received the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.

Born and raised in the Philippines, Geena Rocero is an award-winning producer, director, model, public speaker, trans rights advocate, and television host, and was named one of Gold House’s 2020 #A100 most impactful Asians and Pacific Islanders. Her directorial debut Caretakers (PBS), a docuseries about Filipinos in care work, received four Emmy nominations. Her upcoming memoir HORSE BARBIE will be released on May 30, 2023 by Penguin Random House imprint, The Dial Press.


Rachel Dratch is perhaps best known for her seven seasons as a cast member on Saturday Night Live. She got her start at the Second City theater in Chicago where she was on the main stage for four years, and where she first met Tina Fey! Other tv credits include King of Queens, 30 Rock, Broad City, Shameless, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, where she appears as John’s wife Wanda Jo. She has lent her voice to Bob’s Burgers, Harley Quinn and Teen Titans Go! Film: Down with Love, Click, Just Go with It, Sisters, Wine Country, I Love My Dad and the Hallmark movie parody A Clüsterfünke Christmas which she also co-wrote. Theater: Privacy (Public), Ripcord (MTC), Love’s Labour’s Lost (Delacorte), Minsky’s (Ahmanson) and the title role of Sylvia (George Street). Rachel made her Broadway debut over the summer in POTUS, or Behind Every Great Man Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award.

Ari Naftali Melber is an American attorney and journalist who is the chief legal correspondent for MSNBC and host of “The Beat with Ari Melber.” Melber also serves as MSNBC’s Chief Legal Correspondent and an NBC News Legal Analyst, reporting on law and justice stories across all NBC platforms. He received a 2016 Emmy Award for his reporting on the Supreme Court. Melber’s writing has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Atlantic, and he is a former regular contributor to Politico, Reuters and The Nation. Before joining MSNBC, Melber practiced First Amendment law and served as a legislative aide in the U.S. Senate. He received a J.D. from Cornell Law School and is a member of the New York Bar.


Heralded as a “powerhouse of a showman” (Glide Magazine), a “legitimate jazz triple threat” (Critical Jazz) and a drummer who “take[s] a back seat to no one” (The New York Times), performer, producer and educator Ulysses Owens Jr. goes the limit in the jazz world and beyond. He is a recipient of a 2013 ASCAP Plus Award, 2014 Global Music Award and a 2015 Jazz at Lincoln Center Swing! Award. With four successful albums of his own (It’s Time for U, Unanimous, Onward and Upward, and Falling Forward) Owens has also gained special attention for his performances on the GRAMMY award-winning albums Dedicated to You (Kurt Elling) The Good Feeling (Christian McBride Big Band.) As an author Ulysses has penned multiple articles for publication and published a Hallmark Drum instructional book titled Jazz Brushes for the Modern Drummer: An Essential Guide to the Art of Keeping Time. His second book is The Musicians Career Guide: Turning Your Talent into Sustained Success. In addition to his work as an author and musician, Ulysses serves on the Faculty at The Juilliard School, serves as the Artistic Educator in Residence at Savannah Music Festival. His passion project is his role as the Artistic Director for his family’s non-profit organization, “Don’t Miss A Beat,” in Jacksonville, Florida that utilizes the arts as a bridge to a better life for “At-Hope” students.

NEW YORK, NY – AUGUST 24, 2022: Solea Pfeiffer photographed in the Flatiron district of New York City on Wednesday, August 24, 2022. CREDIT: photo by Stephanie Dianistyling by Sarah Slutzky assisted by Carlee Princell, makeup by Camille Thompson, hair by Karla Serrano

Solea Pfeiffer is fresh off her Broadway debut in the musical adaptation of Almost Famous, for which her performance as Penny Lane drew rave reviews. She recently starred in Tyler Perry’s Netflix film A Jazzman’s Blues and completed a well-received run of her solo show You Are Here for Audible Theater. Solea previously starred in the world premiere of the musical Gun & Powder at the Signature Theatre. She received praise for her portrayal of the iconic Eva Peron in New York City Center’s revival of Evita, then went on to star opposite Renee Fleming in The Light in the Piazza at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Solea also starred in the critically acclaimed run of Jason Robert Brown’s Songs for a New World (New York City Center Encores! Off-Center) and as Eliza in the West Coast premiere of Hamilton. Solea’s first job after graduating from the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre program was Maria in the LA Philharmonic/Gustavo Dudamel Hollywood Bowl production of West Side Story. She later reprised the role in Steven Reinecke’s National Symphony Orchestra production at the Kennedy Center. On television, Solea has recurred on The Good Fight and appeared in one of the final episodes of ABC’s Scandal.

Liisi LaFontaine is a Los Angeles Native who has been performing as long as she can remember. She most recently was seen originating the role of Satine in the West End production of Moulin Rouge after originating the role of Deena Jones in Dreamgirls on the West End in London. During that run, she released her first studio EP, titled Golden, and is currently working on new music. Other credits include, Princess Tiana in Mickey’s Magical Map at Disneyland, The Dreamgirls tour, the role of the iconic Whitney Houston in the broadway bound musical, Born For This, The Crocodile in Fly at La Jolla Playhouse, and Snow White in Disenchanted. In New York participated in several concerts and readings, including Gun and Powder art at NAMT New Musicals Festival, TRIAL, at the Vineyard Theatre, The Amen Corner directed by Billy Porter, Broadway bound Paradise Square, and Some Like it Hot. She was most recently seen, on television, in Freeform/Hulu series Good Trouble.

Bobby Conte most recently starred in the acclaimed Broadway revival of George Furth and Stephen Sondheim’s Company. He made his Broadway debut originating the role of Calogero in A Bronx Tale, directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks. His feature film debut was in If Beale Street Could Talk directed by Barry Jenkins, and he has appeared on TV in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix), Madam Secretary, and The Code (CBS). Other New York theater credits include My Fair Lady (Bay Street Theater) and Starting Here, Starting Now (York Theatre Company), and regional theater credits include Last Days of Summer (George Street Playhouse), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Two River Theater). He received his training at the University of Michigan and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.